Saturday, June 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §24.1 "The Material Task of Dogmatics" pp. 844-853

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §24 states: "Dogmatics summons the listening Church to address itself anew to the task of teaching the Word of God in the revelation attested in Scripture. It can do this only as it accepts itself the position of the teaching Church and is therefore claimed by the Word of God as the object to which the teaching Church as such has devoted itself."

In section §24 ("Dogmatics as a Function of the Teaching Church") and in subsection §24.1 ("The Material Task of Dogmatics"), Barth begins by reminding us that the Church is called to teach:
The life of the Church is not exhaustively defined as the hearing of the Word of God. By reason of this hearing, the Church which hears the Word of God is called to teach. And if, broadly speaking, the task of dogmatics is to test Church doctrine, this very testing cannot be exhaustively defined as recalling the Church from teaching to hearing. Rather, it calls it back so as the better to call it forward. It calls the Church to hear so as to call it to teach (844).
Barth then leans in with a question:
What does it really mean, in terms of its will and activity, that the Church hears the Word of God? (845)
He answers:
The Word of God, when it is heard, demands the service of the Church; it demands to be proclaimed and made known; and since it wills to be made known to men, it demands human speech, human tongues and human words. Because it demands genuine service, and wills to be proclaimed and made known in pure doctrine, the first requirement is that it should be continually heard. But it demands service. This demand does not alter the fact that under all circumstances it is to be taught and that therefore in the Church the passage must always be made from hearing to speaking. “I believe and therefore speak.” Only when hearing produces this consequence has the Word of God been really heard. It must therefore be a subject of inquiry whether this consequence does in fact follow, and it must always be remembered that it ought to follow. In the human frailty of the Church, it is just as little a matter of course that it does actually follow as that when the Church speaks it really speaks from faith, and therefore from the hearing of the Word of God and not from any other source. The Word of God committed to the Church has not only an origin but also a telos (845).
In other words, a service in the Church is the teaching and proclamation of the Word. So the Church is both the hearing Church and the teaching Church, and true hearing demands the service of teaching. Why does it teach as the "hearing Church"? Because God wills to speak!
From this angle, too, it is to be realised that the ambiguity of the phenomenon of Church proclamation is impossible and intolerable, being not only open to attack but actually attacked at its root by the fact that the Church of God has received His promise, that its concern is His concern, and that He Himself wills to speak and will speak His own Word in it (847). 
Dogmatics has a mission to fulfill and a summons to communicate and respond to - the norming norm - the Word of God - Jesus Christ. It is to Jesus that dogmatics points, and Jesus is the theme and object of dogmatics. This is the material task of dogmatics.
By this true promise must be concretely understood the presence of Jesus Christ the Lord in the biblical testimony to His revelation. This in itself is the summons to renewed teaching, just as it is the summons to a renewed hearing of the Word of God. If, in view of this second ambiguity in Church proclamation, dogmatics has a mission to fulfil even to the hearing Church, basically this can consist only in answering this summons, and therefore again, from this side too, pointing to the presence of Jesus Christ. Here again its task will be a material task, because this summons, in so far as it is a positive summons to proclaim new doctrine, is grounded in the fact that the presence of Jesus Christ in His Church is not only the norm, but the specific theme or object to which the teaching Church is dedicated (847-848).
In the presence of Jesus Christ, the Church has no option but to teach!
The Word of God constitutes the norm which must constantly be borne in mind in all Church proclamation only because and in so far as it declares something quite specific and has a quite specific content. This specific event which has taken place in the person of Jesus Christ, this specific content of the Word of God, determines and characterises the law and the norm which are valid in the Church and which in its activity it must respect. But the primary requirement of this event and message, and therefore the theme given to the teaching Church, is simply that the Church should act. It should do so in respect for and within the framework of that law and norm. But at all costs it should act. That is to say, it should testify to this event and its content and speak to itself and to all the world about it. For in virtue of what takes place and what is contained, this event and content constitute a Gospel which wills to go forth, and which cannot be and cannot be understood except as a Gospel that does go forth. Because this is the case, the Church is obliged, encouraged and authorised to teach by the presence of Jesus Christ (848).
Again we say, no option but to teach!
The news which the Church has to proclaim is that in virtue of what has happened in Jesus Christ man can now live with God in faith and love and hope, on the ground of God’s unfathomable and unmerited mercy. And this news is so urgent that in every time and place where the Church exists it must be proclaimed at once and in all circumstances. It is a contradiction of the content of this message if in view of the probable unworthiness even of its future achievements the Church tries to evade the demand for obedience, or if it is willing to obey only when it finds itself in a position to render this obedience worthily. According to the content of the message, the worthiness of human action can never be claimed as a right, nor can the unworthiness of human action ever be regarded as an obstacle to entering at once and in all circumstances into the fellowship which God offers man and therefore to discharging at once and in all circumstances the obedience which is enjoined (850).
And dogmatics has a role to play - a material task - as it calls the Church to obedience as it is taught, so the Church does not become a dead Church.
But just at this point, by reason of the sophistry of the natural man, there is the continual temptation and danger that this obedience will be omitted because on this side, too, the phenomenon of Church proclamation is ambiguous. Here, then, the task of dogmatics is necessarily a material one. It has to call to the recollection and consciousness of the Church which hears the Word of God the content of what is heard when it hears this Word, so that in the dynamic of this content it will not only be the Church which hears, but the Church which hears and teaches. The aim is that it will be compelled to instant and constant obedience, quite irrespective of its present or future worthiness or unworthiness, wholly and utterly for the sake of the promise itself. It has not only to be prevented from becoming a heretical Church, but also from becoming a dead Church (850).
Every day the Church needs to be newly aroused and newly sustained—sustained not merely with regard to the mode but also with regard to the substance of its teaching. The life of the Church as well as the formal constitution of its message is in danger. If its doctrine requires to be tested, this must be understood to mean that it requires to be positively confirmed and strengthened and invigorated and vivified. And if ultimately and decisively this can be expected only from the Word of God itself empowered by the Holy Spirit, dogmatics cannot refuse its service to the Word of God and the Church even from this angle (851).
In the last resort, the purification which this testing involves is to be expected only from the Word of God itself. But this does not mean that the Church need not lay its hand to the plough in the work of dogmatics (851).
The best of dogmatic service rendered to the Church is that service which is rendered to the gospel, and which calls the Church back to the gospel (and its contents) again and again.
It will carry out the necessary criticism of all Church doctrine by addressing itself entirely to the matter which claims and occupies Church doctrine, explicitly or implicitly looking back from this point on the various more or less pure or impure forms of Church doctrine. Of itself, therefore, it will be impelled to pronounce over the whole range of the human work of Church teaching not only judgment but also the forgiveness of sins, which has to be declared even to the Church which teaches impurely, even to the heretical or heretically-minded Church, if judgment and repentance are really to be proclaimed to it. It will then be able to disclose, present and combat all the failings, errors and deviations of the Church as so many disloyalties to the truth primarily disclosed to it, thus dealing with them in connexion with the truth itself. This does not mean that it will minimise the Church’s liability to error. It will not call the impure pure. It will not insinuate error into the true teaching of the Church. On the contrary, its concern will be to mark off the boundary between the Church and its doctrine on the one hand and error and falsehood on the other. The drawing of this dividing line will not be effected without positive implications, without a promise and invitation reaching beyond the limits demanded. The Law which slays can be made effective only on the basis and in the content of the Gospel which makes alive. For this reason and in this way dogmatics will be able to speak comfortably to the Church itself. Unfolding and presenting the Word of God, it will speak to the Church from no other standpoint than the Church’s own being and essence. It will say to it only what it already is and has, because Jesus Christ is already present in it. It will confront it with the abundance of its own wealth. It will make clear to it in what quite unnecessary poverty and restriction it is moving, and how strong and rich it might immediately become. It will make the Church dear to itself. It will inspire it with new confidence and courage to become wholly itself. It will accomplish all this by causing the Word of God to be spoken again to it, not only by inviting it to hear the Word and adjust its life to it, but by doing its utmost to enable it to hear the Word, itself seeking to teach it as far as its capacity allows. And as it does so, although it will not compel, it will certainly urge the Church not only to hear, but to teach as it hears. The Church does not have to do this, but it ought to do it. For it is an honour and a joy, an inner necessity and a gracious privilege to serve and therefore to teach the Word of God. Indeed, it is the whole meaning of the Church’s existence. Therefore the compulsion to proclaim the Gospel implies the incomparable freedom of the Church. It is not only disobedience and disloyalty, but folly and self-betrayal, not to make use of this freedom. For the Church can live only in the sphere of this freedom. Outside this sphere, it can only die. And when dogmatics has to call the Church to order, since this takes place only in the context of the unfolding and presenting of the Word, and in relation to its dynamic, it can only happen that the Church is compelled to realise that in all the weakness and ambiguity of its doctrine it is enfolded by the power and clarity of what God Himself will and actually does teach within it. Dogmatics cannot adequately reflect this power and clarity. But it can at least bring them to the notice of the Church as the transcendent by which the Church and its activity are relativised and judged, yet at the same time sustained, and of the presence of which they can avail themselves at any time if they only will (852-853).